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“Aye captain. You called?”
“I did Mr. Smyth.”
“Have you seen any trawls?”
“Excuse me, Sir. Trawls?”
“We have been up and down this coastline all day and not one trawl.”
“I don’t understand, Sir. What are trawls?”
“You’re kidding me, of course.”
“No Sir. I don’t know what you mean by a trawl.”
“This is your first trip, right?”
“Yes, Sir. I joined the crew last Monday.”
“And no one filled you in that we were fishing for trawls?”
“That’s correct. You’re the first to mention them.”
“That’s odd. Oh well, as you were.”
“Can I ask?”
“What are they?”
“I have no idea.”
“But you said we were fishing for them.”
“We must be.”
“What kind of boat is this?”
“A trawler. . . Oh for heaven’s sake.”
“No such thing, right?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“So there is a thing called a trawls.”
“I have no idea.”
“Got me again, right?”
“Yup. Maybe you should go below. Don’t tell the crew.”
“I think they already know.”
“You do this with the new guy.”
“And not much to do.”
The Lady Jay © 2022 Raymond Walker
I heard the double boom of the maroons going off, one boom for the rocket going off, the second echoed noise from the surrounding hills. I saw the purple rocket streak across the sky before I even knew we were in trouble. The skipper’s voice called out, “inside lads, the engine is failing and like as not we will be pushed onto the rocks. Rob ready at the bilge pumps, there is still some power in the battery but best not use it until we need to”.
It was only then I made the connection, the maroons, the lifeboat, they were for us. We sat just outside the safe harbor of Campbeltown loch, just a few hundred yards more and we would have been safe even without power but that is also where the problem lay. Had we been out in deep water then we would have just bobbed about for a couple of hours suffering nothing more than uncomfortable stomachs. Old wooden inshore trawlers like this one, the “Lady Jay” are meant to float and though they do move ponderously in a heavy swell they are difficult to sink. Wood Floats.
But here we sat just under the granite bulk of Davaar Island. A huge long dormant volcanic cone notable for only three things, its lighthouse, a cave painting of Jesus on the cross by a mad sailor stranded there that has become a shrine and the strong currents the island exerted upon the surrounding seas.
I tried to calculate in my head how long it would take the lifeboat to reach us verses the time till we were drawn upon the rocks and things did not look good for us. Every Trawlerman knows when they start this job that there is a chance of wreck, ruin and a watery grave but a heavy squall, a sudden storm not something as simple as the engine failing on a nice night and just happening to be in the wrong place for it to happen. The “Lady Jay” was over thirty years old, a fine old lady but was well looked after, the seams caulked and anti-fouled annually, the engine and apparatus well maintained. The wood may be strong and well cared for, but a strong undercurrent, jagged granite, obsidian, and wood do not mix. And we would be on the rocks in minutes. We had two little inflatables, again fine for the open ocean but against rocks they were worse than useless, better in the sea.
It was dark but I knew that there was no beach to swim to, it was high tide, and the sides of the island rose in hundred-foot cliffs at this end. At this point your mind takes horrible leaps. “Skip is old, but he is hardy. If anyone can make it, he can” Johnny, the only other member of the crew apart from Skip and I is a useless trawlerman, he only got the job as he is Skips nephew and the boat can be manned by two. Oh no. I suddenly remembered; He can’t swim. I shall have to try and look after him as well as myself. Skip I can just leave, he has as good a chance of making it as I do. Tough old bugger.
Thank goodness there are few sharks around here and most of them are small and would not tackle a fully grown man. The big ones are basking sharks and plankton eaters so they will not harm you, except by accident but there are many other things in the sea around here that can do you damage. Jellyfish and conger eels jump to mind. Jellyfish do not seek to hurt you but a sting from them can paralyze and that is not good in the ocean especially if you already have someone that can’t swim in tow. A huge, bloated vision of a pale sinuous conger eel, thirty-foot-long jumps to mind that I saw in a documentary, and I had just remembered about the many undersea caves that lie under Davaar island, home to many of them, I did not doubt. A sobering thought had I been drunk. I heard a crash and wood splintering.
I flipped the switch for the bilge pump and swung down the hatch to go check the damage, Skip and Johnny just looking at me, too shocked to do anything. There was seepage in the hold. Our catch, whiting and Mackrell pulsed as water slowly seeped in, but it really was not too bad, the old dear had weathered the beating, the bilge pump would handle this till the battery ran out.
But then I was jerked to the side as something struck the keel, we lifted with a wave and came down upon a rock which broke our back.
The “Lady Jay” began to founder, water was pouring in, the old girl would not last long.
I pulled myself up onto the deck as Johnny put the first inflatable in the water. “Forget it” I said “It will not last two minutes against those rocks. I could see the look of fear on his face just as the battery died “I can’t swim”.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got you” I said and laughed. “what’s up with you? Skip asked, “you’re not going to go hysterical on me too, are you? “Sorry skip” I said, “I was just thinking how many times I had complained about the rain while working here and now I am soaked on a dry day”
He just looked at me measuring, perhaps I am hysterical. “You ready” he asked, and I nodded, “I’ve got Johnny, you just look after yourself, swim out from the island if you can, wait on the coast guard, the rocks are too difficult to navigate” He nodded, and we stepped off the boat.
Despite the fact I was already soaked, and it was not yet winter the cold hit me like a hammer, but I made the surface easily, pulling Johnny up with me, we did not have far to fall, the “Lady Jay” was already going down, no boat could survive a broken keel. She would break up upon the rocks. The metal going down the wood eventually resurfacing, splintered driftwood. I tried to pull Johnny towards the main channel and deeper water, but he kept flailing around. I saw the skip just ahead of me swimming strongly against the current and knew that he would be fine. The lifeboat would not be long now.
I could not make the main channel whilst pulling a fighting and spluttering johnny behind me, against the current, I was tiring badly, but I kept trying and was able to move us a little away from the rocks. If I could only keep that distance or more, we would be fine. I was calculating in my head again the time for the lifeboat to get here just as I saw the searchlight appear around the headland at the middle of the island.
The “Severn” class lifeboat can move quickly, around twenty-five Knots, and it would only be a short while until we were rescued. I just had to keep pushing towards the channel and keep us from the rocks. I was tired and cold, but perhaps I could do it especially if Johnny would keep still but the sight of the lifeboat and a chance of survival drove Johnny frantic, He started flailing around again and grabbing at me drawing me under with him and the more his head dipped underwater the more frantic he became. I was tired. lethargy creeping in and if I could not make it Johnny would die too.
The lifeboat drew closer as something pushed against my feet. A rock, I thought and kicked out, an extra burst of strength to keep us out of the way but I was exhausted by then and made little headway. Whatever it was kept rising pushing me and johnny up to the surface. Red gold tarnished wood that I knew so well rose and sat just on the surface, waves lapping over it. The old Girl had broken up and a little part of her, it seemed still wished to keep us safe as she had for so many years.
The lifeboat sent out its rib, picked us up and a few hours later dry and warm we sat in the pub toasting the “Lady Jay” who protected us even as she died.
My effort was:
“So, mister clever navigator, which maps did you use to get us here?”
“The regular ones, Skipper. Same ones I’ve always used. Never let me down once. Dead accurate and everything.”
“Okay. Come out of your map room, leave your compasses behind, get your tail up here and cast your eyes starboard. What do you see?”
“Don’t look like it oughta, Skip.”
“Don’t look like it oughta, Skip? You’re damned right it don’t look like it ought to. What’s your GPS say about our current position.”
“GPS is down, Skip.”
“Down? Down? What do you mean down?”
“No signal, Skip.”
“That’s not possible. According to the last status report I saw, the GPS system currently employs thirty-one active, healthy satellites. There are no planned outages and, for goodness’ sake, the Yanks aren’t going to allow the system they use for their own civilian and military operations on land, sea and in the air to drop out of service, are they?”
“I suppose not, Skip. But the nav system says no satellites can be found. What more can I do?”
“You can tell me exactly where we are for starters! That’s what I pay you for.”
“Maybe I can help you with that,” a voice boomed. The voice seemed to emanate from a heavy-looking cloud directly above them. The cloud was pulsating with different-coloured lights in time with the voice, putting Johannes, the Skipper, in mind of the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
“Where do you think they got the idea from?” the voice asked.
“Y-y-you can read my mind?”, Johannes asked, looking skyward.
“Darned tootin’ I can.”
“So, where are we?”
“What is the right question?”
“Look around you… both of you, search your memory and come back to me when you’ve worked out what to ask me.” The cloud stopped pulsating, reverted to the white, fluffy form that is common in the area – well, not common as such, the sky being cloudless for much of the year – and shrunk in size.
“What do you reckon, Skip?” the navigator asked.
“No idea, Sam. The waterway looks like Khor Dubai well enough, and that’s where we are supposed to be, but I’ve never seen the shoreline looking like that. Mind you, I’ve only been working these routes for the last five years.”
“If I stretch my mind back. This maybe looks a bit like it did in the 1970s—”
“A-HA!” came the booming voice from the cloud, which had just expanded and taken on its colourful pulsing form.
“What?” the two mariners asked in unison.
“Do you now know what question you should be asking me?”
“I suppose,” Johannes replied, “If we are indeed in Dubai Creek, perhaps I should ask you when are we?”
“Hark. Did I just hear the unmistakeable sound of a small coin striking the deck?”
“Oh, you are obtuse, aren’t you. Let me rephrase it using words your limited intellect can comprehend. Has the penny finally dropped?”
“Okay, Great Intelligence. So we’re where we want to be but not when we want to be. Am I right so far?”
“Aren’t you going to tell us when we are?”
“That explains the lack of GPS signal, but – ignoring for a second the major question of your purpose in shifting us through time – why 1979?”
“Ask your navigator to bring you his chart for this region.”
Johannes asked Sam to bring his charts up but Sam said that they were too large and heavy to carry up. Johannes went below, with Sam, to the map room.
“Now look at the copyright line at the bottom of the chart.”
“It says copyright 1979 Acme Charts.”
“And nothing has changed since then?”
“Nothing significant,” Sam offered, “unless you count the new island complexes and—”
“Precisely. My name is Harrison McCleod – don’t laugh – and I represent Acme Charts. I have a simple message for you. Once I have delivered it, I shall return you to your time. You will have no residual memory of this incident or of meeting me, but my message will nag at you until you take the appropriate action, kapeesh?”
“Okay, Harrison Mc Cloud—”
“It’s McCleod; C L E O D, but it’s pronounced the same. Continue.”
“Very well, Mr Harrison McCleod, what is this message you are so keen to deliver to us. What is it that you would have us do to allay your obvious wrath?”
“BUY SOME NEW CHARTS!”
Using this photo as inspiration, write a short story, flash fiction, scene, poem; anything, really; even just a caption for the photograph. Either put your offering (or a link to it) in a comment or email it to me at email@example.com before Sunday evening UK time. If you post it on your own blog or site, a link to this page would be appreciated, but please do also mention it in a comment here. Thank you for taking part.